London after the Great Fire is rife with filth, superstition, and murder.
Lucy Campion, formerly a housemaid in the home of Master Hargrave, a magistrate, loves the magistrate's son Adam despite the disparity in their social status. She also cherishes warm feelings for Constable Duncan even though he once arrested her brother for murder (A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, 2013, etc.). Now that she’s working as a printer’s apprentice for Master Aubrey, her romantic life remains unresolved. While she’s out selling pamphlets, she discovers a woman on the edge of a burned-out area dressed only in a filthy shift and covered with cuts and bruises. She guides the lady, who’s acting oddly and seems to have no memory of her past, to Dr. Larimer, who takes her in only because his assistant, Mr. Sheridan, thinks she’s Octavia Belasysse, daughter of a lord and sister to the infamous Henry, whom the king acquitted of killing an innocent man he thought was a robber. Although Octavia’s supposed to be dead and buried, Larimer writes to her family and asks Lucy to stay with her, since she seems calmer in Lucy’s presence. Octavia (as she does turn out to be) has not only lost her memory, but also has epilepsy, and the falling sickness has rendered her unsuitable as a wife and a burden to her family. But Lucy suspects that Octavia remembers more than she lets on, especially after they’re accosted on the street by a man claiming to be Octavia's husband and an apothecary comes to the house with a draught he says will help her. When the body of a man is found stabbed to death near the place where Lucy first met Octavia, she becomes a suspect and must put herself in danger as she digs into the noblewoman's mysterious disappearance in order to prove her innocence.
An enjoyably complex mystery with a clever heroine neatly interweaves detailed historical background with fascinating characters.